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School Field Foes Force Full Project Review

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Robert F. Simon (table left), the lawyer for the Be A Good Neighbor group, at the hearing. Board of Education lawyer Douglas J. Kovats is at right.
Robert F. Simon (table, left), the lawyer for the Be A Good Neighbor group, at the hearing. Board of Education lawyer Douglas J. Kovats is at right.

Opponents to the renovation of the lower football field at Verona High School scored a procedural victory last evening when the Verona Planning Board decided to not conduct a so-called courtesy review of the project. The decision sets the stage for a full site plan review by either the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

This summer, a group that calls itself Be A Good Neighbor had hired a lawyer to challenge the Board of Education’s assertion that the field work needed only a courtesy review. This is the normal process for school facilities but Robert F. Simon, the attorney from Herold Law of Warren, N.J. who was representing the Neighbors, contended that the lower field was something other than a school facility. In early October, Planning Board Attorney Greg Mascera disclosed that he was looking into the assertion, but Verona Township Manager Joe Martin told the Town Council at its October 20 meeting that, “The Board of Education’s request for a consistency review appears to be reasonable.” In his report to the community this month, Superintendent Rui Dionisio noted that, “The Verona Public Schools has gathered feedback from the Verona Township engineer on the field project design and made appropriate modifications as necessary.” Those modifications included mapping out the installation of an entirely new sewer line from the back of the high school to Grove Avenue to replace a more than 100-year-old pipe that Jim Helb, Verona’s engineer, felt could be compromised by construction.

But at last night’s review, Mascera supported Simon’s assertion about the lower field and told the body several times that Verona would not issue building permits to any plan that had not had a full site plan review. (The Planning Board approved the referendum’s addition to the Verona High School music room at the start of Wednesday’s hearing without requiring a full site plan review.) Simon was at last night’s meeting and identified himself as representing Barbara Bochese and Steven Danieli of 9 Dodd Terrace, Daniel and Diane DePalma of 10 Dodd Terrace, Diane Braschi of 22 Dodd Terrace, Marc Kaplan of 137 Grove Avenue, the Ruberto family of 24 Dodd Terrace, and Daniel Motley of 125 Franklin Avenue. Simon told the Planning Board that, were it to hold the courtesy review, it “will end up muddying the waters in terms of appropriate review”.

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In the end, Planning Board members acquiesced to Mascera’s position, while making it clear that a vote for a full site plan review was not a vote on the turfed multi-activity field. “This does not predetermine my vote for or against”, stressed Town Council member Kevin Ryan, who sits on the Board.

Planning Board Chairman William Brown, attorney Greg Mascera, and Kevin Ryan, the Town Council's representative to the Planning Board.
Planning Board Chairman William Brown, attorney Greg Mascera, and Kevin Ryan, the Town Council’s representative to the Planning Board.

Douglas J. Kovats, the lawyer representing the BOE, was clearly dismayed with the Planning Board’s decision. “We knew that we would have some resistance”, he said this morning, “but I didn’t think that the Planning Board would give up an opportunity for the public to learn more about our project.”

The Planning Board now has 10 days to communicate its decision to the state Commissioner of Education, which does not have to accept the finding. The Board of Ed has been in regular communication with the Commissioner’s office, even well before the referendum: School districts must submit long-range facilities plans to the office and it reviews referendums before they are put to a vote. Verona’s referendum passed by a vote of 1,777 to 1,067 on March 11, a margin of 710 ballots. The 2005 referendum passed by just nine votes.

“It’s my understanding that the Verona Board of Ed will continue to do what the voters obliged them to do when they overwhelmingly approved this project,” said Kovats, a partner at Kenney Gross Kovats & Parton in Red Bank who specializes in representing school boards.

It is not yet clear whether the decision by the Planning Board will delay the renovation of the field, which the BOE was planning to complete by the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year. Helb had previously said that the Planning Board, which looks at how projects conform to permitted land uses, would not have an opening on its calendar until January 22, 2015, which would be after the BOE wanted to open the bidding process on the work. The Planning Board’s schedule has been occupied with the Dennis Handel’s project for a mixed-use building at 176-200 Bloomfield Avenue. The Board of Adjustment, which reviews requests to use property in ways that are not consistent with zoning law, meets on the second Thursday of every month and has little on its schedule right now.

Referral to either body does not automatically mean a drawn-out process, as has been the case with the Handel application. In the past three years, both the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment have heard extremely complex cases with multiple variances in a single evening.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

13 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Mascera should be commended on his handling of this meeting. His professional and unbiased conduct was both welcoming and refreshing. Simply put, He followed the law as it pertains to this field plan.

  2. I totally agree with Mrs. DePalma on the planning boards attorney being right on point. He also stated the towns attorney agreed with his views on the law relating to the lower field.

    Also, I do not know why Mrs. Virginia Citrano felt the need to publish my address in this article. It has nothing to do with the story or the facts from the meeting at all. Maybe to badger me? Maybe to somehow try to inhibit me from expressing my displeasure with the lower field project? I don’t know… But in all fairness Mrs. Virginia Citrano’s address should also be published – 68 Newman Avenue, Verona, NJ. Fair is fair… No?

  3. Mr. Motley, your own attorney put your name and address on record at the beginning of his remarks to the Planning Board, as he is required to do by law. His representation becomes part of the public record, which is just that–public.

  4. Now seems like an excellent time to remind everyone of MyVeronaNJ.com’s Comments Policy, which oddly enough asks readers to be “good neighbors”. As for the rest, I worked for the French Embassy’s Press Service before being hired by The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com, among others. Thirty years in journalism, and counting.

  5. As a “professional” journalist for this site….why is it that you do not follow policy? You have mislead your readers and shown bias. How are you a good neighbor? Keep counting.

  6. Here’s the Comments Policy in full:

    Comments Policy
    MyVeronaNJ.com welcomes a dialogue with its readers–as long as that dialogue is open, honest and fair. If you enter a reasonable comment on our site, we’re more than happy to share it. If you don’t follow our rules, your comment will be deleted and commenting privileges revoked. It’s that simple.

    So here are the rules:

    This is a real site, so comment under your real name. If you need to share information and can’t do so under your own name, e-mail it to us. If it checks out, we’ll use it in a story.
    This is a family site, so keep your language family-friendly. No profanity, insults, attacks on character, ethnicity, race, religion, gender (or pro team allegiances.)
    This is a community site, so be a good neighbor. If you think one of our commenters is not, send us an e-mail.
    This site is about Verona. Keep your comments specific to our town. Don’t use this site as a soapbox for your favorite cause.
    And now for the legal fine print: Commenters on MyVeronaNJ.com are responsible for all legal consequences arising from their comments, including libel, infringement of copyright or actions that threaten a third party. By submitting a comment, you are agreeing to indemnify MyVeronaNJ.com LLC and its partners from any legal action arising from your comments.

  7. It’s not the “school field foes” that forced the full review-it’s the LAW that did. I repeat – it’s the LAW. That is the fact. Did you miss that part of the planning board meeting? Not such a great journalist I say…You are allowed to print anything you want on this site – but the comments that point out your mistatements and lies are not neighborly? I disagree.

  8. This is my first time writing here. Actually a very nice website. When is the next town council meeting ? Does anyone know why the leaves are not picked up by the town ? I was told it is for safety, but that doesn’t make sense. Anyway, information on either question would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  9. Marty, apologies for the delayed response. The Town Council meets on the first and third Mondays of the month, except when that conflicts with holidays. The meeting is on the second floor of Town Hall and starts at 7 p.m. The Board of Ed meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month (generally) in the library at Verona High School. BOE meetings start at 8 p.m.

    As for leaves, we’ve had many different collection styles over the years. Currently, homeowners can either bag them and put them by the curb for pickup or take them to the leaf dump at Commerce Court, just past the recycling center. More information on handling yard waste and other recycling on the Verona Environmental Commission’s Web site, http://www.veronaec.org

  10. Mrs. Virginia Citrano,
    I have read your posted resume of your history as a reporter. Very impressive. With all of that experience and training, it escaped me that you failed to abide by one of the most basic rules of reporting by way of displaying reporter impartiality toward the story about which you were writing.
    You claimed the reason why you posted my address was because it was put on the record by our Be A Good Neighbors attorney. I’ve researched many of your former articles, including your web coverage of the Planning Board meetings in regard to the DMH2 Developer at 176 Bloomfield Avenue across the street from the Verona car wash. Not once did you list anyone’s home address in any article. But, you found it necessary to list the proponent’s homes from a few members of the Be A Good Neighbor group.
    I personally felt your choice of title that refers to the “School Field Foes…” elicited an air of animosity when coupled with our personal addresses revealed in your text.
    To be crystal clear…we are not “foes.” We have lived in this area of town and have raised our families here. We do not want our quality of life destroyed any less (with 110 foot poles of lights blazing into our homes, etc.) than you and those near the Bloomfield Ave project want to be subjected to the DMH2 proposed blasting. Because we took it upon ourselves to make sure the Board of Education followed appropriate protocol with which the Planning Board’s lawyer and the Town Councils lawyer were in agreement, truly shows that the Be A Good Neighbor group is strongly aware of the correct procedures that need to be followed. The Verona Board of Education had a great idea to overhaul the fields, however, their plan of execution was and is in need of review. Those that live in close proximity to the lower high school field will be subjected to ongoing problems with the plan as it has been proposed.
    I feel you are, and have been, taking a partial/unfair view of the Verona residents who live in the area of the lower field, and who will be greatly affected by this expansion. Ironically, I just read the coverage of the same planning board meeting in the Verona Times. This publication did not list any of the Be A Good Neighbor’s addresses. Perhaps you should open one of those old text books that helped you earn the resume you posted and search for the chapter of impartiality of reporting or conflict of interest. Or were you not in reporter school the day it was taught?

    Respectfully submitted,

    Dan Motley

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